1971 Dodge Challenger’s Road to Excellence
Clean 71 Challenger
Updated June 23, 2017
When Daniel Niclas first discovered this 1971 on eBay, he didn’t know what problems lay beneath the surface, but it didn’t stop him from building his dream car. It spoke to him, essentially being his dream project: “For me, it’s rare that a car can look good from any angle or perspective. The ’71 Challenger is one of those cars to me.”
Although the 1971 R/T Challenger looked good to him on eBay, it looked a bit different once he flew all the way out to New York, purchased it, and had it shipped back to his home in San Jose, California. As far as Niclas was concerned, the Challenger ran, the numbers matched, and he expected to put a bit of work into it. It just turned out to be more work than he originally bargained for.
Once the repairs on the Challenger were underway, it became clear that the muscle car had been wrecked badly in the past. The K-frame was shot, torsion bars were warped beyond recognition, and the headers’ collection was smashed – just to note a few issues. Niclas then decided he needed professional help and eventually found Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop in Eau Claire, Wisconsin with which Niclas clicked.
Despite the numbers matching, Kappas of the Wisconsin shop and Niclas decided against an all-original restoration due to copious amounts of rust they discovered on closer inspection. Instead, the pair went with modifying it purely for muscle car function. As Niclas notes, “It could even be ugly, but it has to usable; that was always the highest priority.”
They replaced the all-too-worn suspension system with a Reilly Motosports’ AlterKtion front system that also lowered the engine and center of gravity and XV Motorsports three-link in the rear with an adjustable Panhard bar. After dropping in 408ci LA-Series small-block engine with a five-speed Tremec manual transmission, Niclas tested it out at the Car Craft Nationals and was happy with the performance.
Although Niclas now has plans to rebuild a 1968 Coronet, he still enjoys taking his 1971 R/T Dodge Challenger out of the garage. He has raced it several times and even brags about once passing a Formula racecar. He may even be inspired to tweak the Challenger more in the future to pass even more Formula One racers.